NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When you get done with college, if you're like most Americans, you're going to be dealing with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. So probably the last thing you want to think about is spending even more money. Still, if you want to prepare yourself for professional success in the modern economy, you might want to spend a little bit more in the right places before you head off on your job search in earnest. So what's money well spent after your graduation?
Training Yourself for the Workplace
Probably the last thing you'll want to do after you graduate is return to the classroom. But the good news is that a lot of the training you might need to succeed in the world of business isn't going to be found in the classroom. Scott Abbott, a partner with Straticos who wrote a book called Level-UP to Professional (Amazon Digital Services, 2014), he thinks that what today's grads are most in need of are soft skills and business 101 type skills. In fact, according to a new survey by CareerBuilder.com, nearly 40% of companies reported they need workers with a better mix of technical and soft skills that liberal arts educations are no providing.
Abbott stresses that most of the training you might need once you're done with school is free or inexpensive. "Some of them are free," he says. "It's just the investment of your time." A lot of what you need to learn can be grabbed out of books. You can buy those if you want, but you can also hit up your local library. "Go to the business and self-help sections of a local book store," he says. "Grab a cup of coffee and thumb through a couple of things." Then pick up the books that resonate most with you. Sit down and learn what you can about making it in the world of business. Most of what you learn in the local community college's entry-level business courses can be learned in the business section of your local bookstore.
Looking the Part
Presentation is very important. When you go out to look for a job, you're competing with thousands of other college grads who are basically just like you. One of the ways you can set yourself apart is by presenting yourself like a professional young person with his eye on the ball. "If you want to be fully packaged, grab an iPad cover," Abbott says. "Buy a decent pen. Get a great notebook so that when you go into a job interview, you're not scribbling notes onto a scrap piece of paper." He believes that these are cost-effective investments people can make to present who they are better to potential employers.
And, of course, you have to dress the part when you go into a job interview. In an age of tech jobs and "business casual," looking the part isn't as cut-and-dried as it once was. What's more, you don't just want to buy any old thing. Dick Lerner, co-owner of Bel Air Fashions, noticed that over the last five to ten years, prices in business wear have come down. That makes it easier for young people to grab something to wear, but it also makes it harder to know what's quality and what isn't. "Some of the best clothing is made in Shanghai," he said. "You can get a suit for around $300." The problem is that you need to know which $300 suit is a bargain and which is just cheap.
Another issue in 21st Century workplace apparel, according to Lerner, is changing rules about what's acceptable in the workplace. "If you want to be in management, you have to look like you're in management," he says. But what that means is different in the tech industry than it is in the financial sector. He advises people to research the workplace culture and how that impacts dress. "People don't have a wardrobe plan," he says. "They don't have a clue what their work environment is. You need to ask yourself what you're going to be wearing to work before you even buy a stitch of clothing."
For a young person on a budget, you want to aim for two things above all: durability and versatility. "It's not about what the fashion media pushes," he says. "It's about what's appropriate for the company." So look around, see what people are wearing, set your budget and buy the most durable and versatile clothes you can afford. They'll last you for years to come. And remember, you have to look the part if you want the part. "When abilities, skills and experience are all equal, it might be the appearance that makes the difference," he says. "And appearance will make the difference because you'll look like the best fit for the company's culture."
Much like your college degree, money that you spend on your image and sharpening skills for the workplace isn't money wasted. On the contrary, it's an investment in your future. And when you've got the skills and look like a million bucks at work, you'll know why you spent that money.